From Dad Shah to Regi



By Malik Siraj Akbar

The meeting was almost over. It was the midnight on the third and the final day of exhaustive consultations between Pakistani and Iranian border officials. Delegates from both sides were extremely drowsy, starving as well. Not-so-junior officers from both countries looked up and prayed to God that their heads of delegation should now agree to call it a day. They wanted the joint-communiqué to be issued so that everyone could get a little time to eat and then sleep.

“I think we have discussed almost all the issues in detail, haven’t we?” said Zafar Khan (name changed), Balochistan’s (former) chief secretary, who was heading the delegation of Pakistani border officials in the meeting held in Zahedan, the capital of Iranian Balochistan.

The hungry and sleepy officers looked at each other delightedly and smiled. They secretly admired Mr. Khan for finally heading towards the conclusion of irritatingly monotonous topics under discussion for three long days and now even nights.

“No,” said the head of the Iranian delegation to everyone’s utter disbelief, “We have not discussed all issues yet.”

“What do you mean?” said Khan, stunned with his subordinates further irked.

“Regi,” said the Iranian head of the delegation.

“What about him?” asked the senior Pakistani delegate.

“I think we need to talk more about him,” he added.

“But Regi has already dominated the talks throughout the three days. We have not discussed any other issue with you but him on your insistence. Have we not talked enough about Regi,” he inquired wearily.

“Yes, but we want you to cooperate in capturing him, dead or alive,” insinuated the Iranian official.

On their part, the Pakistani delegates subsequently grumbled that they were truly annoyed over the intransigent behavior of the Iranian officials.

“They would not talk about any other issue but Regi,” a participant of the same meeting told me on dinner at Quetta’s Sarena Hotel as we devoured chicken Shashlik, ” I must tell you Regi had made the Iranians very restless. He meant what Bin Laden means for the Americans (the most wanted man on the earth).”

Finally, Iran captured its version of Bin Laden on February 23rd, 2010 by intercepting Kyrgyzstan Airways flight QH454 on Persian Gulf through fighter jets when it was carrying Regi, 26, traveling from Dubai to Kyrgyzstan.

Two days after his arrest, the Iranian officials wasted no time to extract “confessions” from Rigi by spreading the word that he was backed by the United States of America to wage a battle against the repressive Islamic regime. There was clearly no indication that such a confession had been made freely amid no pressure at all.

Regi, who headed the militant Sunni group, Jundullah, had carried out a few deadly attacks against the Iranian government in the recent past. The worst attack took place last year in October in Pishin town which killed the deputy chief of the Iranian elite Revolutionary Guards. It was then when Iranian government put all other issues aside and began the manhunt for Rigi, the chief of Jundullah. Iran implicitly held Pakistan responsible for providing shelter to Rigi and asked for his extradition. Even though Pakistan vehemently denied the charges, Iran did not buy Islamabad’s account and decided to shut down its border with Pakistan.

A rogue state that Iran is, it hanged countless young Balochs overnight in the aftermath of the Pishin attack. While the entire world is entering an age of civilization, respect for human rights and abolition of death penalty, Iran comes up with the most brazen display of tyranny towards its Baloch population by hanging them publicly in front of hundreds and thousands of people. This does not only humiliate the dying man but also shatters the self-respect and human feelings of his family members.

Iran may be forgiven for its nuclear program but it cannot be pardoned for the brazen violation of human rights inside its territory. The worst victims of such state oppression are predominately the religious and ethnic minorities living in that Shia-dominated theocratic state. The international community needs to dismantle the foundations of the scoundrel regime before it advances its oppression to the rest of the neighboring countries.

Regi is dead now. The Iranian state media announced on June 20 to have executed him in Evin Prison in Tehran. Its the time for him to go down in the history. For the Baloch people, he will remain an unforgettable symbol of resistance.

With his struggle and now death, Regi refreshed the memories of Dad Shah, a Baloch fighter from Nillage town, in southeastern part of Iranian Balochistan of 1940s. Shah, a member of Mobarik tribe, deeply resented the Persian domination over the Balochs and began his operations against the Iranian forces in 1944. His wife, Bibi Hatun, equally joined him in the fight against the Iranian monarch. He killed Sardar Muhammad Darani, the Commander-in-Chief of Zahedan and waged several other successful battles for the rights of the Baloch people.

Dad Shah and Regi clearly fought on different fronts but they shared several things in common. Sharing the common enemy i.e. Iranian regime, Dad Shah fought purely a nationalistic battle for the independence of Balochistan while Regi strived for the rights of the religious Sunni minority in Shia dominated Iran. Both of them were billed by Tehran as bandits and drug smugglers respectively by Iran and beneficiaries of Iraqi and American support. Yet, they were seen as saviors by their own Baloch people. They will go down in the history as the icons of resistance. They were both killed by the repressive regime in its efforts to force them to succumb to a racist and undemocratic regime.

Balochs divided and forced to live in Iran and Pakistan have remained assertive with regards to the uncalled for treatment meted out to them by the Persian and Punjabi dominant groups in both the countries. With the Balochs in Pakistan currently engaged, like four times before, in a nationalistic insurgency against Pakistan, it is understandable why Abdul Malik Regi rose in Iran with a movement carrying a religious face rather than a nationalistic umbrella.

Iran has historically been very violent towards Baloch nationalism and made all out efforts to incorporate the Baloch identity into a Persian identity. Former Washington Post Bureau Chief Selig S. Harrison notes, ” Reza Shah and Mohammad Raza Shah Pahlavi had a more thoroughgoing effort to contain Baluch nationalism than their British and Pakistani counterparts… The (Punjbai) domination over the Baluchs (in Pakistan) dates back little more than three decades (now six decades). By contrast, the Baluch in Iran have been battling Persian monarchs for nearly 200 years.” He further notes that the Shah prevented the growth of a politicized Baloch intelligentsia inside Iran.

“Sharply limiting education in the Baluch areas, he (the Shah) banned the use of the Baluchi language in the few schools attended by Baluch students and made the use of Persian mandatory. He compelled the Baluch students to use history textbooks in which the Baluchs were described as Persian in the ethnic origin and prohibited the use of Balochi in government offices. He also made it a criminal offense to publish, distribute, or even possess Baluchi-language books, magazines and newspapers, a prohibition which curtailed but did not entirely choke off the flow underground publications from Pakistan… One of the most bitterly resented aspects of the Shah’s repressive approach to the Baluchs was his ban on the wearing of traditional Baluch attire in schools and other public places.”

There was no change in the state of the rights of the Balochs after the Islamic Revolution of 1979. Instead, they now had to face dual discrimination i.e. one on the basis of their ethnic origin and, two, due to subscription of majority of Balochs to Sunni sect of Islam. With a Shia regime in place, Tehran brutally violated the rights of its Sunni population while left no space for Baloch nationalism to grow. Balochs living in Iran today do not have even half of the political consciousness about their distinctive Baloch identity as compared to those living in Pakistan. Significantly, the post-Revolution generation of Iranian Balochs is more sensitive towards their Sunni religious identity rather than the ethnic origin.

Regi stood for the rights of the Sunnis living in Iran and hardly spoke about Baloch nationalist rights. Many Balochs back in Pakistan use various arguments to portray Regi as a nationalist leader who, according to them, stood for the rights of Balochs but all that one finds in a number of his interviews is his commitment solely with the rights of the Sunnis. Regi never supported the cause of an independent Balochistan as he looked at Pakistani as a ‘brotherly Islamic” country which he did not want to destabilize.

Denial of rights to religious/sectarian minorities is as much a violation of human rights as snubbing the basic right of ethnic minorities. Iran is currently busy in discriminating its Balochs on religious as well as ethnic front, an offense for which the international community must take action.

Killing Dad Shah did not end the Baloch resentment towards the Persian domination on the Balochs nor is Regi’s execution going to put out the fire of rebellious thoughts in Iran. Celebrating Rigi is not meant to glorify violence but it is to take an example how some people in the globalized world refuse to give up their distinctive identity before more powerful and tyrant regimes. Tehran kept Balochistan deeply backward in almost all spheres of life. The social indicators in Sistan and Balochistan are the most depressing in the whole Islamic Republic.

Until Iran reviews and rectifies its arrogant behavior towards its secterian and ethnic minorities, it will continue to witness the birth of dissenting and, in other cases, violent movements inside its boundaries. Rigi’s execution should mark the inception of more dignified behavior towards the Balochs and other non-Persian and non-Shia communities.

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